The Château Ramezay
January 5, 2018 / Posted by Heritage Montreal - Collaborator
You don’t need to fly to the Loire or to Bavaria to plunge headfirst in the fairy-tale world of castles, because Montréal has a few to boast. Notably, there’s the Le château theatre, a magnificent example of an Art déco palace built in Rosemont, there’s Le château apartments on Sherbrooke Street, a bloc inspired by its cousins in New York, and even the picturesque Château de la crèmerie Chateaubriand, with pastel turrets which humbly overlook the Boulevard Crémazie. Once upon a time, there were even massive ice palaces installed on Dominion Square for the winter carnival! Unlike these icy colossi which have since melted away, you can still admire the formidable Château Ramezay in situ, Montréal’s oldest castle. So, what can be learned from the architecture of this three-hundred-year-old building which became Québec’s first history museum and the first building to be granted heritage status in 1929?
The Château Ramezay has had many uses in the last three centuries: a family residence, hotel, faculty of higher education, government building, temporary home for American revolutionaries, and many more. The story behind this Montréal historical hotspot begins in 1705 when Claude de Ramezay, then governor of Montréal, commissioned the construction of a vast estate to fulfil his statesman’s obligations and accommodate his large family – the man had 16 children! The manor, surrounded by lush gardens and orchards, was built next to a Jesuit property atop a small hill which was once the city’s highest belvedere. In 1745, the estate was sold to the French East India Company, but the original building was destroyed shortly after in a fire. In the 1750s, the Company built a larger edifice on the same lot and re-used the Château’s original stone foundations – this same building still stands today. And though it has since been renovated many times throughout the 20th century, masons and architects alike have done all that they can to preserve its antique spirit.
The Château – which bears closer resemblance to a manor – was designed in the style of a large urban house of the New France era; both its size and the materials used for its construction are testament to this. The house has a vaulted basement, a ground floor and an attic. Its rubblestone walls were built with stones gathered from the ashes of the Ramezay family’s house, razed by the flames. Its dual-pitched roof, punctuated by gabled dormers, is reminiscent of construction methods employed in New France, but its gentle slopes reflect avant-garde technical knowledge. The rectangular wood-frame windows consist of small glass panes, which were easier to transport by sea from France. The two turrets, added only in 1903, are emblematic of the castellated style which was very much in vogue at the time.
Those with impeccable eyesight will be able to spot small, strange and sinuous iron structures on its façade. These S-shaped objects are actually hooks which were used to anchor down bricks or stones by installing them in the floor joists. Also, if you look up towards the turret summits, you’ll see a reproduction of the cross which was formerly installed at the église des Récollets.
So take some time this holiday season to go for a nice stroll along Notre-Dame Street, which hosts many of Montréal’s most beautiful architectural achievements such as City Hall, the former Courthouse and the Cuvillier-Ostell House.
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